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Postpartum is often referred to as the “fourth” stage of labor.
It begins immediately after the delivery of your baby and lasts about 4 – 6 weeks (4 – weeks for your cervix to close and the uterus to shrink to a “pear” sized organ).
However, it will take your body several months to get back to where is was physically before you got pregnant.
Now remember, it took almost a year to have that baby (nine months give or take a week or two). Your body has experienced a lot of physiological changes. After birth your body begins to heal returning slowly to its pre- pregnant state.
Emotionally, you are excited, amazed that you gave birth and possibly overwhelmed about being a new parent! This is normal and expected. You can expect mixed feelings of elation and possible let down. What you have waited for, your baby, is here, now what? What do you do with this little person?
You may miss the feeling of being pregnant. You may worry about your ability to be a good mom . You may be frustrated because you are not sure about what you are doing, or what you are supposed to do to care for this little person. You may feel perplexed and/or confused about choices you’re making about your baby’s care, and about advice you are receiving. You may even feel guilty or question yourself about decisions already made (circumcision), vaccines, and so on. Or, you may feel absolutely in charge of everything!
The point is, you will experience many emotions and they will vary from woman to woman, man to man, couple to couple – moment to moment after the birth of your baby …
Postpartum is a special time. Aside from the above, you and your partner are now a family of three! Your partner has been with you throughout your pregnancy, labor, and birth, and will now join you in sharing a lifetime adventure in raising this child.
You will discover new aspects of your relationship together, a new appreciation for each other, and experience some struggles and/or conflicts in parenting along the way. Your relationship together will change and priorities will shift to the baby. Where once you were a wife and lover, (and still are) now you are a mother first, and sex for a while may not be important as a new mom.
New dads will still be interested in sex. But guys, you’ll have to wait. Be patient and understanding until she gives you the green light! Don’t worry. Everything will be OK, in time. Your new mom needs to physically heal from having a baby and figure out breasfeeding too.
What’s needed now is time to get acquainted with this little person, with each other as parents, your new routines, and new life together as a family.
Immediately following the birth of your baby, and depending on how you feel and what kind of birth you experienced you may feel:
- After birth contractions, which should be mild. You may receive Tylenol for discomfort.
- You can breathe! No more shortness of breath, right?
- You may be very hungry!
- Eager to start breastfeeding. Go ahead, this is the best time to start because baby is alert and eager to learn!
- You may experience chills because baby is no longer in your belly ( that aditional “furnace” generating heat is gone)
Hours, later, you :
- Sweat! Yes, this will happen. Why? Your body retained a lot of fluid during the pregnancy, and now you will urinate a lot and perspire to get rid of that fluid naturally. Very normal, and within 24 hours of delivery.
- May have trouble urinating because the perineal area ( that area of the vagina to the rectum) is swollen from childbirth. Ice packs will be applied after birth to decrease swelling.
- May have discomfort from the episiotomy. You will be given a sitz bath to sit in several times a day while in the hospital. You will use warm water which promotes healing to the area, and is soothing.
- Will be bleeding, which will change over the next couple of days, to weeks called lochia. The color will change from bright red, to brown to yellow, and to white. You may bleed for a couple of weeks. How long varies from woman to woman.
- May have hemorrhoids (painful swelling of veins in the anal area)caused by pressure on delicate blood vessels during birth.
- May have gas pains, more so with a Cesarean birth because of surgery. Get up and move!
- May be constipated. Drink lots of fluids.
- When you wake up in the morning, or get up from sitting a long time, it will seem like you are bleeding heavier than before. This is because blood has “pooled” from lying down. Don’t get scared. However, if you are passing clots of blood let your nurse know, and if you are home, call your health care provider.
You’ll have a post partum bleed called “lochia”. It’s similar to a “period” but will last a few weeks. It’s your body’s way of healing after birth regardless if you had a Cesarean or vaginal birth.It’s normal.
- The nurses will check for the position of the uterus daily. This is because after birth, the uterus shrinks to the size of a melon, and should feel firm to touch. This is good. It means the uterus is contracted, and inhibiting bleeding from small blood vessels located where the placenta was.
Massage your uterus after birth. This helps to make it firm and decrease vaginal bleeding.
- Experience emotional highs and lows .
- Possible Breast engorgement.
Most of the above will be short lived, such as the perspiration, breast engorgement, gas, and urination problems The rest will be resolved in their own time, such as the Lochia, healing from the episiotomy if you had one, or healing from a Cesarean incision, and emotional highs and lows.
Also, your cervix takes about six weeks to close after a vaginal delivery, so no douching, no tampons, no sex right away, nothing in the vagina that might increase the risk of a vaginal infection. In six weeks after a vaginal birth, 8 weeks for Cesarean, you will have a postpartum check-up with your care provider.
The postpartum period in the hospital is also a very busy time, and a short stay before you go home. You will be visited daily by your obstetrician, and/or Midwife, nursery nurses, dietary, pediatrician, family, friends, the florist, Lactation nurse (if you are breastfeeding) and so on.
Lots of questions will be asked of you to discuss with your partner, such as circumcision, or breastfeedng verses bottle feeding. It will be important for you to have some idea of what you want to do before the birth of your baby, so that you’ll feel more secure in your decisions, and so that the hospital staff will know your desires as well!
Most hospitals practice “rooming – in”. After delivery the mother has the baby in her room as much as possible to learn about caring for it, breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, changing diapers, etc. This is good because if you have questions the nurses are there to help you because you will be home very, very soon, and on your own!
This is a period of transition for both of you, so take each day as it comes. You’ve heard it said before I’m sure – no directions come with a new baby on how to care for it or how to parent a child. We all just do the best we can.
So try to relax, go to infant care classes (you will learn a lot about newborn care, and breastfeeding classes), early in your pregnancy. Here are some other suggestions for after the baby is born.
When you’re home
So begins your journey of being a mom. It’s a common worry “will I be a good mother?” Or course, if you love that baby you’re already a good mother. But, it’s real important to take care of yourself as well as you little one.
“Baby Blues” affects some 60% of new moms right after birth and it lasts about two weeks. You may feel “bla”, have a sense of loss, overwhelmed, withdrawn. You may have “crying spells” and then periods of elation. There are a lot of physiological changes going on and hormonal shifts. That’s only PART of the cause. Your life has changed. You are responsible for this little life and it can be scary. Your relationship with your partner may change as well as the one you have with your own parents.
Post partum depression (PPD) becomes a concern with noticeable behavior changes. For example, not sleeping, eating more or loss of appetite, not going out, loss of interests, neglects self-care or care of baby, withdrawn.
Scary thoughts are also associated with PPD. For example not wanting to take the baby outside for a walk because you think you will get hit by a car and baby will die. So, you don’t go out. Now your behavior is reflecting your thinking. The thoughts can be completely wild too. and not make any sense.
If this is starting to happen to you reach out for professional help to talk about what’s happening in your life. This is a perfectly healthy and acceptable action to take and is a good sign of your well being. Asking for help is key to transitioning into motherhood.
Sometimes you just need to “vent”. Having a newborn, being a human “milk machine”, and a care giver 24/7 can be stressful. If you are healing from a Cesarean birth, you are also healing from major surgery. This can add stress as well.
Lack of support, life circumstances, and environment may also contribute to your emotional state while transitioning to being a mom.
What to do
- ask for help
- stay connected with friends – have a weekly friends night out
- join a new mom support group
- have weekly “date nights” with your partner
- avoid being isolated
- journal your feelings
- it’s okay and normal to not feel happy all the time because you have a baby
- it’s okay to voice how you feel – the more you do the better
- communicate, communicate, communicate
- Take care of yourself, eat well, rest when you can
- celebrate yourself, you ARE special and amazing
- pamper yourself 🙂
- read these books: Dummies Guide to Post Partum Depression by Shoshanna Bennett, and Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Veitan
You ARE an awesome mom 🙂
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